Run and Shoot: 2008: Grading the non-conference schedules

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2008: Grading the non-conference schedules


We've created a vicious cycle in college football. Sure we all love the fact that just about every game is on TV nowadays. And because coaches and athletic directors want their teams to look good on TV, so they schedule a lot of limp fish opponents. Because wins beget bowl games. Bowl games begets job security. Job security begets more money. Thus, more money is insured by wins. You spin me right round baby right round, like a record.

No longer do college football teams across the country take chances. Or, well, rarely do they. Have you noticed how boring Septembers have become, except for the occasional Appy State upset of Michigan or Ohio State showdown with Texas?

It's because the more school administrators and coaches feel they can cha-ching a few million per home game and pile up easy Ws to boost their bowl chances and national title chances, the better. I mean, who can blame them? It's an easy choice to make.

But what about the fans in all this? Do we really want to hear Fowler and Herbstreit break down another impending Monster State bloodletting over Cupcake Tech?

And tickets for these embarrassments? I say that there should be a sliding scale for ticket prices that requires games with weak-sister opponents to be cheaper. So, if you wanna play a home game against a team with a hyphen in its name? Okay, then the price of a ticket is $20. If you play a directional school, that's a $15 ticket. You wanna play a Division 1-AA team (I refuse to us that stupid new name for this classification)? Fine, tickets are now 10 bucks for that one. Division II opponent? Screw it, it's free. C'mon down and walk on into the stadium. Concessions are free too.

So with that as a backdrop, here's a look at the Top 25 schools and their respective non-conference schedules. Let's get the red pen out and grade how they did in scheduling and what these games mean to you and I as college football fanatics who have noticed the dearth of intriguing games in September over the last few years.

vs. Georgia Southern
vs. Central Michigan
at Arizona State
vs. Georgia Tech

Grade: C

First, let's give props to an SEC team agreeing to take a risk by going on the road into a tough environment. Nice work people, especially when you consider the last time UGa played a ranked non-conference team on the road in September was 1987 at Clemson (Knowshon Moreno was two months old at the time). CMU could be the best MAC team out there... not that I was thinking the Bulldog schedulemakers were looking for the MAC's best when they devised their slate.

2- USC
at Virginia
vs. Ohio State
vs. Notre Dame

Grade: B

With the Pac 10 going to a full nine-game schedule (so each team plays every other team. Novel idea huh? Every conference should downsize and follow suit.), the Trojans will only play three non-conference games. As is their wont, SC at least tries to play tough teams. They can't help it that Notre Dame is awful now. But that showdown with the Buckeyes is going to be a real treat and the biggest intersectional showdown of national championship contenders this year.

vs. Youngstown State
vs. Ohio
at USC
vs. Troy

Grade: C-

Give the Bucks some credit as well as they are following up on their epic battles with Texas from 2005 and 2006 with a home-and-home series with USC. If not for OSU, the non-conference battles of the recent past would be much more boring. But the remainder of their non-Big 10 slate is pretty awful. And yet, keep in mind their struggling with lowly Akron last fall as well. Gives hope to OU and Troy.

vs. Chattanooga
vs. Cincinnati
at Washington
vs. TCU

Grade: C-

Look, they tried to have an interesting non-conference game last year. Remember the Miami matchup? Yeah, it was supposed to be an 80s flashback but gave us a 51-13 stinkpot instead. My guess is that Cincy, Udub and the Frogs will give the Sooners a better challenge. Still, not tough enough. But keep in mind that the Bearcats finished in the Top 25 last year. Still, this slate makes you wish that annual blood-bath with Texas was back as a non-conference game. I mean, if you're a Sooner fan, how can you get excited about a season opener against a team called Chattanooga?

vs. Hawaii
vs. Miami
vs. The Citadel
at Florida State

Grade: C-

Isn't it strange to think that that the toughest challenge in this group could come from Hawaii? I mean they ARE the only returning BCS team of the bunch. But we are all sure that Florida will thoroughly paste the Warriors, aren't we? Though this isn't your father's Canes and Noles, still give the Gators a pat on the back for trying here. Renewing the rivalry with The U will probably pay dividends in a few seasons.

6- LSU
vs. Appalachian State
vs. Troy
vs. North Texas
vs. Tulane

Grade: F

To give these guys a failing grade is almost not severe enough. Former A.D. Skip Bertman loves money. And that's obvious by their eight home games, which promise 90,000+ each Saturday in Tiger Stadium. But these four games should be half-price... nay, third-priced tickets. Unless the defending national champs can insure us all that the game with the lower division national champs comes down to a last play field goal like last year's Michigan game. Otherwise, all Tiger fans deserve a letter of apology. Sorry Skip, you'll have to pay for the paper you write it on too.

vs. Illinois (in St. Louis)
vs. Southeast Missouri State
vs. Nevada
vs. Buffalo

Grade: D+

With the relative improvements of the two teams, that season-starter with the neighboring Illini has become one of the most intriguing non-conference games in the country. Juice Williams vs. Chase Daniel. Sweet. But you have to like the supporting cast around Chase a little bit more. And don't fall asleep on Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, he's a lightning bolt of action that could cause problems. The other games are mere scrimmages. But look at it from a coach's perspective, MU misses Oklahoma and Texas A&M in the Big 12 rotation. So a national title run could be in the cards.

vs. Villanova
at East Carolina
at Colorado
vs. Auburn

Grade: B-

I don't know if Rich Rodriguez is the one to thank here (sorry at the mere mention there 'Neer fans), but this is a pretty good selection of opponents. It's not often a BCS bowl team goes on the road and plays a decent mid-major team in its stadium. Most big-money schools run away squealing like a little girl over the very thought of that. Not WVU. The Blue & Gold also make a trip to a football field 5,430 above sea level. Add to all that a visit to Mountaineer Field from an SEC team? Nice.

vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
vs. The Citadel
vs. South Carolina State
vs. South Carolina

Grade: C+

Now THIS is how you schedule a game that will keep your team motivated in their pre-fall workouts. I like the pair of SEC matchups. With a senior-dominated team this season, you have to expect the Tigers to be able to handle the pressure in these matchups. Bama and Carolina are on the way back on the national scene, but CU should be favored in both. The other two games? Suit up the J.V. team. James Davis C.J. Spiller could both go for 2-bills+ in each of them.

vs. Florida Atlantic
vs. Arkansas
vs. Rice

Grade: C-

Get this, when was the last time Texas played UTEP? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago? How 'bout never. Strange huh? And here the Horns are going on the road to play them too. That's a nice olive branch to extend to a fellow UT school. Even if it IS in another time zone. The Arkansas game could've been a lot more interesting if it had taken place last season with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones taking part. Talk about easing into their season, after these four gimmees, the Horns take a week off before starting Big 12 play at Colorado, followed by Oklahoma and Missouri.

vs. Louisiana-Monroe
vs. Southern Miss
at West Virginia
vs. Tennessee Martin

Grade: C

Great Scott! That October 23rd trip to WVU should be a wicked-good showcase - Thursday night. National TV. By the time that game comes around we'll know better whether the Plainsmen are the SEC West heavies they're expected to be. They also get a week off beforehand, making it the first game of the "second half" of their season. But watch out for the USM game, new coach Larry Fedora will be looking for a marquee win to introduce his tenure. And that's a trap game for a new quarterback (be it Kodi Bruns or Chris Todd) in a new system to faceplant in.

vs. Akron
vs. Marshall
at Fresno State
vs. Cal Poly

Grade: D

Typical Big 10 slate, as they start the season with a sacrificial lamb from the MAC. And this isn't exactly a 2004-vintage MAC team in the Zips. This will be the third time in four years that UW has opened with a MAC opponent. New QB Allan Evridge should be able to handle the job, after spending 2005 as the K-State starter. But game No. 3 is a trek most teams wouldn't dare make, to Fresno's boneyard. And how odd is that season-ender vs. D 1-AA Cal Poly? Maybe they'll need the break.

vs. Florida International
vs. Louisiana Tech
at South Florida
vs. Sam Houston State

Grade: D

Damn. The Jayhawks need to act more like their basketball brethren and play some higher quality non-conference opponents. The trip to Tampa will be pretty good. If you recall, the Bulls were actually the No. 2-ranked team in the country at one point last season. It'll be Matt Grothe vs. Todd Reesing. That game will provide KU the chance to prove that the only one-loss team in the BCS ranks from last year is better than their under-appreciated pre-season ranking.

vs. Eastern Washington
at Nevada
vs. SMU
vs. Massachusetts

Grade: D-

Excuse me, I'm having bad flashbacks. And this time it's not the peyote. But this looks more like one of those old Kansas State out-of-conference slates, doesn't it? And you know Mike Leach, he's not one to let up on an opponent when they're pinned down in a figure four leg-lock and screaming "uncle." Remember last year's 75-7 embarrassment of Northwestern (La.) State? Get ready for more of that. For a team that some rags even have as a pre-season Top 10er, the Raiders should challenge themselves more.

vs. East Carolina (Charlotte)
vs. Furman
at Nebraska
vs. Western Kentucky

Grade: C-

I think there should be a law that a big BCS team should not be allowed to host a mid-major and then NOT return the favor. Or in this ECU case, play the next year's game at some neutral NFL field. (Then again, as I think of it, there ought to be a law against the BCS as well. But I digress.). A game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium would be more treacherous for the Hokies. By the way, any other season, roadies to Florida State and Miami would be pretty impossible. But this is the new millennium you know?

vs. Northern Arizona
vs. UNLV
vs. Georgia

Grade: C+

Considering this team crumbled after its 8-0 start last year, including a 52-34 thrashing to Texas in the Holiday Bowl, the three games before Georgia comes to town will need to be confidence builders. But getting the Dogs to come to Sun Devil Stadium is a great coup. Dennis Erickson's crew face the usual risks with a high-profile team like UGa paying a visit. It could be a momentum builder for a national title run or a crusher for another middle-of-the-Pac finish.

17- BYU
vs. Northern Iowa
at Washington
vs. UCLA
at Utah State

Grade: C-

Uh-oh. People are saying the Coogs have the best chance of anyone of being a BCS buster this season. And their non-conference docket isn't exactly full of potholes. Washington is in save-our-coach mode and UCLA is in year one of the Rick Neuheisel/Norm Chow experiment. So both are vulnerable... or maybe both are out to prove something. Well keep this stat in mind, over the last two seasons, the Cougars are 20-0 after September 16th.

vs. UAB
vs. Northern Illinois
vs. Wyoming

Grade: C-

Ooh, this is good. A return to the scene of where Peyton Manning nearly got ambushed 11 years ago. And on opening day at that. Standing ovation for Phil Fulmer and company, they're one of the few SEC teams that has gambled in the non-conference, scheduling home-and-homers with the likes of Notre Dame, Syracuse and Miami in recent years. The other three are of the name-your-own-score variety.

vs. Missouri (St. Louis)
vs. Eastern Illinois
vs. Louisiana-Lafayette
vs. Western Michigan

Grade: D+

Again, big time hip-hop-hoorays for that re-newed rivalry with the Tigers, pin-pointing an ascent to respectability for both programs. Weird to think that four years ago, both Ron Zook and Gary Pinkel were on coaching hot seats. Both are flourishing now. But a loss to Mizzou here will expose the fact that Zook needs to pull better opponents than these directionalized/hyphenated tomato cans. Especially if the Big 10 is to get any respect nationally.

vs. Utah State
at Purdue
vs. Boise State

Grade: C-

I marked this "C" down in pencil because this could easily transfer to a D-grade since both the Boilers and Broncos appear to be on a down cycle. Maybe it's just a C-for-effort kind of thing. In this day and age, it's admirable for any team willing to trek across the country to play another BCS team. But October will bring USC, UCLA and Arizona State in consecutive weeks, so even the lucky timing-factor of the non-conference will catch up with the Ducks eventually.

vs. Tennessee-Martin
at UCF
vs. Kansas
at Florida International
at North Carolina State

Grade: B-

Points for diversity. Points for challenge. Points for intriguing road trips. Strong work. I wonder how much the energy-infusing Jim Leavitt had to do with this? Love the Friday night showcase game with Kansas. What a treat for college football junkies everywhere. Another thing that's cool to point out here, I'd like to see too-big-for-their-britches Miami and Florida State take a roadie to FIU. No wonder USF is becoming the second best program in the state. They're winning good karma points.

vs. Coastal Carolina
vs. Oregon State
at Syracuse
vs. Temple

Grade: D+

I readily admit, this grade would be a lot better if Syracuse was worth its salt like back in the Donovan McNabb days, because they join the Lions as the two most intriguing teams in the Northeast - with the possible exception of Boston College. Gotta love the intersectional matchup with OSU as well. Still, as weird as this may sound, remember when the Lions played better schedules as an independent? It may be time for JoePa U. to secede from the Big 10 so the Earth can return to its axis.

at Baylor
vs. Ole Miss
vs. Navy
vs. Vanderbilt

Grade: C+

Most any other season, this non-ACC slate may just be Wake trotting out as sacrificial lambs. But this is the Jim Grobe era Deacons, and he may be the runner-up to Bill Snyder in the Coach of the Century voting. A team that has recently gone to a BCS bowl, they aren't afraid to open away from home - albeit it is just Baylor, but you get my drift here. And they also get a chance to rub an SEC nose in the dirt when the Rebels visit. In ACC play, they get conference fave Clemson at home. This could be a Deacon-type year.

vs. Utah
vs. Miami (Ohio)
at Notre Dame
vs. Toledo

Grade: C+

That's a tough home opener for the Rich Rodriguez era in Ann Arbor, since the Utes are expected to be possible BCS busters. And look, give the Maize and Blue SOME credit, if they're going to play a pair of those weak sister MAC teams, at least they're going to face off with two of the better teams in the conference. The Red Hawks should be especially good on defense. This will be a young Michigan team, especially on offense, so the non-conference won't be stringent, but a test none-the-less.

at Rutgers
vs. Wisconsin
at Toledo

Grade: A
C'mon, can anybody really beat the slate put together by Mr. "Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere." himself, Coach Pat HIll? What's not to like about this guy's attitude and this team's ambition? This slate rules. And Coach Hill's attitude permeates the entire campus too, as witnessed by the school's baseball national championship team. My only question is, how the hell did they entice the Big Red from cheese country to come out to the Raisin Valley? Either way, that's so cool.

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